Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

From Marx to Piketty?

When Lenin surveyed the Second International he saw that Kautsky was the leading Marxist intellectual of his day. Marx – Engels- Kautsky was the Intellectual link to which the working class had to defer.

A common belief held at the time by intellectuals within social democracy was that workers could not think theoretically – socialist theory had to be injected in from outside. An insidious and condescending paternalism falsified with the foundation by workers of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904, men and women of the working class who did not need intellectual leaders to write the SPGB’s OBJECT AND DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES.

After Kautsky came out of the First World War with his political reputation in tatters, Lenin took over his place. Lenin believed that he and only he was the true inheritor of Marx. He also agreed with Kautsky that Socialist theory had to be imposed onto the working class by intellectuals like him thereby repudiating Marx’s core political idea that the establishment of Socialism had to be the work of the working class itself. So Lenin believed he was the true heir of Marx. Such is the arrogant vanity of political charlatans and those with delusional fantasies of power.

The false link was now Marx - Engels and Lenin (Marxism-Leninism for short). Following Lenin’s death and a grab for power by the Bolshevik leadership the link became Marx-Engels-Lenin- Stalin or Marx - Engels-Lenin- Trotsky.

This political game changed after Uncle Joe’s death. It now became Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin and whoever happed to lead the Communist Party in Russia at the time or Marx-Engels- Lenin- Mao if it was Chinese capitalism (just where are all those Maoists today?) - and Marx-Engels-Lenin-Trotsky and the Fourth international if you happened to believe (incorrectly) that Russia was a “degenerate worker’s state” rather than an oppressive capitalist regime no different to any other country in the world at the time.

By the 1960’s, with the so-called Fourth International splintering into ever smaller pieces, the link became Marx-Engels-Lenin-Trotsky-Fourth International. Hundreds of would-be Trotskyist leaders, all with their own political parties to lead, vied with each other to take over the mantle of “intellectual leader” from “the butcher of Kronstadt”.

In the 1960’s the “marching charging” students created their own link. It was Marx-Engels-Lenin and a student with a doctorate in politics, anthropology, sociology, history, philosophy or economics.

Then it changed again. Lenin was dropped; then Engels. The link now became one between Marx and the student with the Ph.D.

A few years on, as the student progressed through academia it was Marx and the Professor.

Now it is the professor. Marx himself has been replaced. And so step forward Professor Thomas Piketty and his 700 page book CAPITAL IN THE 21ST CENTURY (2014) Piketty is feted by “the Left” (whatever that is) as having “transcended” Marx. Yet to transcend Marx surely you should have first read his work? Apparently not.

Here is an interview with Piketty in NEW REPUBLIC magazine (5th May 2015).

Isaac Chotiner: Can you talk a little bit about the effect of Marx on your thinking and how you came to start reading him?

Thomas Piketty: Marx?

IC: Yeah.

TP: I never managed really to read it. I mean I don’t know if you’ve tried to read it. Have you tried?

IC: Some of his essays, but not the economics work.

TP: THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO of 1848 is a short and strong piece. DAS KAPITAL, I think, is very difficult to read and for me it was not very influential.

IC: Because your book, obviously with the title, it seemed like you were tipping your hat to him in some ways.

TP: No not at all, not at all! The big difference is that my book is a book about the history of capital. In the books of Marx there’s no data

Yet Piketty is being championed as the New Marx for the New Century partly because he calls into question Marx’s own sound and valid understanding and definition of capitalism and partly because it chimes with the distributive politics of the social reformer. Revolutionary his book is not.

The book reviewers in the Sunday newspapers (all except the DAILY MAIL, who’s very, own Max Hastings did a particular nasty hatchet job on the book) are with him on his criticism of inequality within capitalism and what should be done about it. Suffice to say that abolishing capitalism and replacing the profit system with Socialism and production for use is not one of them

It is reputed that the former Labour Party Prime Minister, Harold Wilson could not get beyond the first page of CAPITAL Professor Piketty has done one better; for him Marx’s three volume study of Capitalism is a closed book.

So much for intellectuals!

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